By Chris Murray
of the Chris Murray Report
After Cliff Lee got roughed up for six runs, seven hits and two homers in his last outing against the Washington Nationals, there were more than a few fans in Phillies Nation questioning their faith in the Phils lefthander.
Lee, who came into Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 3.94 earned average, has been inconsistent so far this season. But in his latest outing against the Dodgers, Lee was back to the dominant form that Phils fans have come to expect from him.
In the Phils 3-1 win over the Dodgers at Citizen’s Bank Park, Lee tossed a gem, striking out 10 and scattering over seven hits in seven innings of work. Lee, who evened his record to 5-5, mixed his pitches well and kept the Dodgers off balance. He threw 117 pitches and had just one walk.
“Honestly, I felt like I didn’t have good command early in the game. The deeper I got the better the command came around,” Lee said.
On a night when the Phillies offense was merely lukewarm at best, Lee did his job by putting the Dodgers offense on the deep freeze during his time on the mound. Though he struggled a little bit in the early going, Lee found his rhythm in the middle innings by effectively changing speeds on his pitches.
“I used the curve ball more and went to my off-speed pitches,” Lee said. “When you’re not locating your fastball, that’s the time when you need to use your off-speed pitches and that’s what I did.”
The Phillies jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a pair of RBI singles by Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard. Shortstop Wilson Valdez, playing in place of an injured Jimmy Rollins, started the inning with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Lee. After a Victorino walk, Polanco singled home Valdez. After Chase Utley lined out to center, Howard brought home the second run of the game with a single to right that scored Victorino.
In the eighth inning, Phillies closed out the scoring with an RBI single by catcher Carlos Ruiz that scored Utley.
The Dodgers got on the board in their half of the ninth when Dodgers rookie infielder Dee Gordon, pinch-running for Juan Uribe, scored from third when pinchhitter Andre Ethier forced Casey Blake out at second on a fielder’s choice. Phillies closer Ryan Madson, who picked up his 13th save, struckout catcher Rod Barajas and pincher hitter Dioner Navarro to end the game.
Madson is 13-for-13 in save opportunities. The Phillies also got a good outing from Antonio Bastardo in the setup role in the eight inning.
“(Bastardo) has been doing real good and with (Jose) Contreras and Madson in the back end of our bullpen, the eighth and ninth is pretty good right now,” said manager Charlie Manuel.
Dodgers starting pitcher Ted Lilly (4-5), despite giving up the two runs, pitched well enough for his team keep them in the game. He allowed just five hits and had just one walk in his six innings on the mound. .
When Lee is on top of his game that two-run lead might as well be a five or six-run cushion because the Dodgers could not figure him out. All of their nine hits were singles and they left eight men on base. In fact, Los Angeles out hit the Phillies nine to six.
All that said, the Phillies offense didn’t resemble the juggernaut that once had the ability to score runs in bunches. But they are winning games and that’s the bottom line, Howard said afterward. With all of their problems with producing runs and getting hits, the Phillies (36-24) are still in first place in the National League East by four games over the Florida Marlins and the Atlanta Braves.
“People call it a hitting slump, I call it winning games,” Howard said. “It may not be what people are expecting us to do, but at the end of the day what matters is did we win? If we were to go out there 14 hits and lose, people will talk about they lost the game.
“We’re finding other ways to get runs across. Homeruns are going to be there, but it’s a learning process for because now we’re finding other ways to get that run across. You have to be well-rounded all the way.”